When Tory Health Minister Henry Willink first proposed the National Health Service in 1944 with the publication of his White Paper "A National Health Service", his idea immediately gathered cross-party support.
It was included in the manifestos for all major parties in the election following the war. And, after Labour’s comprehensive victory, new Health Minister Aneurin Bevan took up the reins. Then opinion diverged.
Though Bevan wanted a centrally-controlled NHS, the Conservatives put forward an amendment to his Bill which would have maintained local administration of the NHS through keeping connections with local authorities, on the basis that it might otherwise lose the personal relationship and understanding between doctor and patient; between local needs and local services.
The amendment was defeated (as opposition amendments are), and the NHS was born as a nationally administered body. But local control has been growing over the past 70 years, and now the Taunton and Somerset Foundation Trust does indeed tailor our services according to need. But of course there are huge pressures, both locally and nationally.
Yes, it may be true that the NHS was last year judged the best, safest and most affordable healthcare system of the world’s 11 largest economy countries, ranked by experts from the Commonwealth Fund health think-tank. And they came to the same conclusion four years ago.
Yes, it may be true that, here at Somerset’s A&E, 772 more patients were seen in less than 4hrs in 2016/17 compared to 2009/10, and that 92% of all patients were seen in less than 4hrs in 2016/17.
Yes, it may be true that 6,699 more operations were performed in 2016/17 than 2009/10 (up 32%); that 50,548 more diagnostic tests were performed in 2016/17 than 2009/10 (up 67%); that the number of doctors at Taunton and Somerset has increased by 6% from 2015-18 and at Yeovil by 13%.
Without wanting to labour the point, yes, the overall Care Quality Commission rating for Taunton and Somerset is Good, and 97% of General Practices have been rated Good or Outstanding.
Yes, between 2015/2016, funding for Somerset’s sustainability and transformation partnership area rose by 16% and overall funding for NHS Somerset CCG increased by roughly £722 million.
But that’s not the whole story. We still face huge challenges. GP numbers are falling and it’s enormously hard to recruit GPs here in the West Country. Costs continue to rise, and despite an additional £43m recently announced for the South West, and an additional £20bn a year going into the NHS overall, there’s much to do.
That’s why I joined MPs from all parties to write recently to the Prime Minster asking her to set up a Royal Commission into the future of the NHS.
We need to have a truly cross-party, non-political look at all the alternatives for the future, so that we can all agree on how our world-class healthcare system can remain fit and sustainable both locally and nationally, not for the last century but for this one and the next. That’s the opportunity we must now grab with both hands.